In the first clear indication from a senior government functionary of how long the road ahead is, Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, has said that India’s resolve in the battle against the novel coronavirus will be tested in the months of June and July, after lockdown curbs have been eased.
“De-escalation of lockdown is potentially an opportunity for the virus to resurface and spread, and this is bound to happen to an extent,” Dr Paul told The Indian Express in an interview. “There could be new clusters when life and activities become more normal.”
The spread of the virus, he said, would be “inversely proportional to our collective compliance with the best practices. We cannot afford to fritter away the lockdown gains made at a phenomenal economic cost and hardship. We have to keep the virus transmission under check and ensure that no new peaks appear. June and July will test our resolve.”
The lifting of the lockdown after May 3 would be a “phased and nuanced affair”, he said.
Dr Paul, a former professor of paediatrics at AIIMS, is one of the most important people in the planning and execution of the government’s COVID management plan. Apart from his position in the NITI Aayog, he chairs the Empowered Group constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the medical emergency management plan, and is a member of the Empowered Group on strategic issues related to the lockdown, which is headed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla — the only person who is a part of the two Empowered Groups.
Dr Paul is also co-chair — along with Principal Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister K VijayRaghavan — of a task force that coordinating among science agencies, scientists, industries, and regulatory bodies to take speedy decisions on research and development related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease.
“An empowered task force is making sure that all efforts are made to develop an indigenous vaccine in the near future. India will not miss any opportunity to be the global hub for vaccine development and manufacturing,” Dr Paul said.
“ICMR has created a clinical research network and a registry to serve as a platform for trials on various therapeutic modalities. These include studying the use of convalescent plasma, plasma exchange, and drugs such as redemsivir etc., when available. ICMR laboratories are also examining the potential of novel drug molecules for their effect on the virus,” he added.